Later today, Senator Jeff Sessions will begin his Senate confirmation hearings as he prepares to become Donald Trump’s Attorney General. The man has a long and painful history of bigotry. He was the first US Senator to endorse Donald Trump for President and is generally thought of as the most conservative member of the entire Senate. It can’t get much worse than having him as Attorney General. That’s why, today, in pains me to talk with you about problems within the ranks of the Democratic Party. While it’s true that we should unify behind the Senate in opposition to Jeff Sessions, Democrats in the Senate have their own problems with bigotry.
This past November, just a few weeks after the election, a respected black staff member who works for a popular Democrat in the US Senate reached out to me confidentially to give me their perspective on how little Democrats in the Senate actually care about diversity.
“They are all so phony,” the staffer told me. “Every time I hear any of the Democratic senators, including my own boss, talk about diversity, I cringe, because it’s all one big lie. That they’ve been allowed to enjoy this reputation as a party that values diversity, while doing next to nothing of substance to align their actions with their words, is expert-level deception.”
“Do you know how many black Chiefs of Staff exist in the Senate? The whole Senate? One. Out of one hundred chances they had to hire a black chiefs of staff, they hired just one African-American,” the staffer said in disgust.
“But hold up, hold up,” the staffer continued. “I haven’t even given you the punchline yet. Guess who the one black Chief of Staff works for?”
“Who?” I asked — having no idea what the answer was.
“Tim Scott,” the staffer replied. “The lone black chief of staff in the entire United States Senate works for South Carolina Republican, Tim Scott. His office may be the most diverse in the entire Senate.”
Most US Senators have four Senior Staff Positions. A few have three. The positions are: Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communication Director and Legislative Director. And out of 336 Senior Staff Members for the entire Senate, only 0.9% of them are black. That’s 3 black folk hired to be Senior Staffers out of 336 opportunities.
Mind you, the majority of white people have voted for the Republican candidate for President in every presidential election since 2000. Voters of color have carried the Democratic Party, being the majority of voters, but only 0.9% of the Senior Staffers hired in the Senate are black.
So, when I got an email yesterday announcing that a new African American Senior Staff Member had just been hired, I was ecstatic. It may sound small, but each new hire is real progress.
Courtney Temple, a widely respected black woman, who has worked in Congress for years, was just hired as a Legislative Director. It’s a very important position and she becomes just the 4th black Senior Staffer in the entire Senate. So, when I started scanning the email to see which Democrat hired her, I came across a name that was unfamiliar to me – Senator Thom Tillis.
Guess why he was unfamiliar to me. He’s not a Democrat. He’s the Republican Senator from North Carolina.
So, the only black Chief of Staff in the entire Senate is Jennifer DeCasper, and she works for Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
The only black Communications Director in the entire Senate is Darrell “DJ” Jordan, and he works for Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.
And now we have Courtney Temple, who is working for Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
In fact, the ONLY Democrat in the entire United States Senate who has a single African American Senior Staff Member – just started her job in the Senate last week. Senator Kamala Harris, the new Democratic Senator for California, hired Clint Odom, a black man, as her Legislative Director – making him the only African American Senior Staff Member for a Democrat in the entire United States Senate. Republicans have 3, Democrats have 1, and he just started last week. It’s a damn mess.
I’ll close with this thought. In a week where we are supposed to be holding Republicans feet to the fire on issues of race and diversity, Democrats need to do much more than talk the talk, they need to start walking the walk.